When it comes to filming, direction is everything. Here are five classic movies which could have plotted an entirely different course if their original directors hadn’t been sacked.
Temperamental thespians, picky producers, demanding audiences, and punishing deadlines. It’s no fun being a director at times — especially if you get sacked. Just ask Tim Burton, who way back in 1984 was fired by Disney because his short film Frankenweenie was deemed “too scary” for children. Nearly 30 years later and the quirky filmmaker was having the last laugh as he released a full length 3D stop-motion version of the story.
Besides Burton, there’s been a lot of other directors who have been dumped unceremoniously before they can triumphantly yell “It’s a wrap,” but who are they, what were the reasons, and who was waiting eagerly in the wings to take their place at the helm and bark, “Take one!”
Richard Thorpe and Norman Taurog – The Wizard of Oz
Just imagine if Judy Garland had been a heavily made-up sassy little blonde in her late teens as opposed to the innocent Kansas farm girl audiences fell in love with? Director Richard Thorpe did, and it cost him his job.
The MGM filmmaker was given the boot after just two weeks because producers felt the initial scenes lacked the right air of fantasy. Ironically, Thorpe was a replacement to original director Norman Taurog, but the third in line to the throne was Victor Fleming, who transformed the film into one of the most seminal movies in Hollywood’s history. Interestingly, some of Thorpe’s footage would still be used in the final edit.
George Cukor – Gone With the Wind
When George Cukor was sacked three weeks into the shooting of Gone with the Wind, no less a leading lady than Vivien Leigh dressed as Scarlet O’ Hara begged producer David O’ Selznick to reinstall the director, who had spent almost two years in pre-production on the American Civil War epic.
Frankly my dears, Selznick didn’t give a damn, and guess who was called into replace Cukor? Lucky old super sub Victor Fleming, who breezed into the studios like a breath of fresh air after having recently finished directing Dorothy and her friends. It wasn’t all plain sailing for Fleming though, as Sam Woods had to fill in for him for two weeks after he collapsed due to nervous exhaustion. That’s showbiz!
Anthony Mann – Spartacus
Alfred Hitchcock once famously said that, “Actors should be treated like cattle.” So can you imagine the humiliation of being sacked by one of the dumb brutes?
When director Anthony Mann was given his marching orders by Spartacus actor/producer Kirk Douglas, the big chinned thespian explained it was because the director “seemed scared of the scope of the picture.” Or perhaps it was Douglas’s ego the director was wary of?
Either way, Mann’s dismissal has confused many critics because the opening sequences in the film are all his, and they fit in perfectly well with the rest of the picture.
A young, upcoming director called Stanley Kubrick was called in to pick up the reins, and in the maestro’s hands, the tales of slaves, swords, sandals, sweat, and sand became a cinematic classic. As for Mann, he went on to direct El Cid a year later, which was good but not quite as good as Spartacus.
Philip Kaufman – The Outlaw Josey Wales
Imagine getting dumped from a film when you’ve worked tirelessly and completed all the pre-production?
Such was the controversy surrounding Philip Kaufman’s firing from The Outlaw Josey Wales, it led to the Director’s Guild passing a new piece of legislation known as The Clint Eastwood Rule.
Confused? Well to cut a long story short, Eastwood and Kaufman didn’t get on. The former disagreed with the latter’s meticulous attention to detail, and they were both in competition to win the attention of actress Sondra Locke.
Eastwood commanded producer Bob Daley to sack Kaufman and replace him himself. The sacking caused anger among Hollywood executives, who fined Eastwood $60,000 and passed a new rule where any cast or crew member is prohibited from replacing a director on a film.
Jerome Robbins – West Side Story
We end, as is fitting for one of Hollywood’s best loved musicals, on a happy note. Jerome Robbins may have been given the boot from West Side Story for going over budget, falling behind schedule, and suffering a nervous breakdown, but such was the magnanimity of his replacement Robert Wise, he still shared an Oscar for best director when the film scooped the honors at the academy awards.
Although Wise directed the majority of the film himself, he still recognized Robbins’s great creative contribution and agreed to give him a co-director credit. Who said the film industry was full of cut-throat ego maniacs?
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